The Glass Prison
Every day of every waking moment I am steering the wheel of life and staring through the windshield of tomorrow. I am the commander of my own fate and captain of an effervescent soul that dwells deep beneath the dullness of my flesh and blood. In reality, I am behind the wheel of a vehicle that seems to drive itself; a machine flowing with innovation and though it has never betrayed the trust of my command, I cannot say with certainty that I am in absolute control for at any given moment, the reigns allotted by this beast may be stripped from my grasp then I would be bound by the mercy of its mechanical conscience. There is nothing I can do: no words to have the power of sway, and there is no escaping these walls of steel that shine with the splendorous glee of a masked tomb.
Often I dwell in this false sanctuary, not by choice, but because simply it allows me to advance from one point to another, more quickly. Yet, I do not readily feel that this is the future of travel when I look through its windows to see the incongruity and inefficiencies of such behemoths. Rumbling, rusting, rattling, and ranting its mechanical mantras. It is a machine riddled with chaos.
I often take notice of other kindred souls whom, for the most part, have surrendered to the same mode of transportation and as I behold their pristine state of obliviousness to my curiosity, I am captured by their sense of senselessness. With discreet fascination I keenly take to observing how many tasks a human being can effectively handle at once before crashing to a startling halt while hiding behind a transparent barrier that shields them from the worldâ€™s ridicule. When they are within the beast, they know nothing of the outside world. Their loud screams of anguish diminished and disappear into silent ears. Their tears race down their cheeks and fall like dew drops off the morning leavesâ€“fresh, salty, and saturated with melancholyâ€“but still, driven into the masks of oblivion.
They are among the discontent and others will pass them without a hint of care, a scent of distress, or an acknowledgment of apathy because they too have been consumed and, even as they live, they are being digested in the womb of the beast. Their physical resemblance remains intact but a part of them, unseen, is being devoured and all that remained was a vacuous stare, void of humanity.
Do they know that a vast world exists outside of these isolating walls? Nevertheless, these speed demons plow through the lines as a rampaging juggernaut heedlessly bent on destroying everything in its path and those on the other extreme crawl like slugs leaving a slippery trail of provocation that one could easily slip into madness if caught in it. And thusly, the rhythms of life continue to beat from the eagerness of dawn to restless dusky evening. Life stops for no one and anyone. It discriminates neither for status or wealth. Nor shall it give weight to the debt of conscience or the density of good will. Death stops for no one and anyone.
The incident occurred in the early hours of the morning while everyone was still hazed by the mists of the nightâ€™s grog. Rays of muted yellow smeared on the horizon giving just enough light to see the immediate surroundings but everything beyond this perimeter was a mesh of dark watercolors. Beads of it fell from the sky and heavily impacted my vehicle like liquid hail. I could barely see a short distance ahead to navigate and only by the guiding red lights of those in front of me was I able to cautiously proceed balancing between the limit of my control and the regulated speed of others around me. This pace was still well below advisory under normal conditions but it was not hard to conclude that due to the unusually inclement weather most had decided to wage their battles in the reverie of their dreams with their heads still planted on their pillows. Not everyone was afforded this luxury, however, so treading the storm was something of the unavoidable. While caught in the entanglement of these thoughts I inadvertently did not notice the regiment of cars ahead of me had gradually decreased in pace until only now, after the canvas of the morning scene seemed to be completely inert, that it had occurred to me something had gone wrong, somewhere. These things were somewhat commonplace so most already had this scenario in their store of anticipation while I remained bound to blind optimism and hoped that this morningâ€™s commute would not deviate too much from the established routine but, as I come to find out, this morning, held only a marked resemblance in expectation, which manifested itself quite defiantly against all other mornings.
A sea of crimson flooded the surroundings as brake lights sequentially activated and clamor of life came to a dead stop; leaving only the sound of the crashing rain to bombard our safe houses. People seemed confused, frustrated, and maddened by this inconvenience. Their heads shook to designate disbelief, some threw their hands up in the air to outwardly express frustration, and the majority of others continued at their business, bobbing their heads to a silent rhythm, speaking vigorously into their devices, unphased by the disruption. What possibly could have happened? What had gone wrong? Did someone fall at the mercy of the beast? The epicenter must be a ways ahead since, for as far as the eye can see, a continuous stream of rouge wound endlessly into the horizon. The lack of activity echoed an eerie silence that pervaded the vicinity. Life had given itself pause. It showed no concern for the promises of punctuality and neither a care for those coming or those going.
Everyone now is synchronized to the same beat and they are given an opportunity to wake from their mental slumber to see for the first time what they had missed every morning that preceded this one. The stillness was broken by the anticipated sirens that came roaring like a thousand trapped souls crying out for help in unison. Screaming to the peak of their intensity for they knew of the divide that could not be transgressed and their efforts were futile against the mighty partition that captured their voices and tucked it away in the annals of oblivion.
The shoulder of the road provided them with access to progress and many more beyond the first followed in its trail as a funeral motorcade and we had no choice but to stand by and watch its grim unfolding. What is this morbid fascination that we feel compelling us to look in the face of death? Do we esteem ourselves in the comfort that if we are able to identify the enemy, to see its form in anotherâ€™s lifeless eyes before we enter the arena that we may have a better chance of defeating it? These accidents, however ordinary or commonplace, I believe are of a divine nature. It is a sacrificial grace that in order to bring pause to our lives and force an introspective reflection blood must be withdrawn and delivered to the gods in the belief that the life of one man taken can save a boundless number of others. In this hiatus, we cross an event horizon toward the promise of redemption.
The dawn hours wore away quickly giving to a dull grey ambiance complimenting the persistent showers that clanged against the steel cages like pennies. Brake lights flickered on and off in the distance which indicated that life was to resume where we had left it. Engines sputtered, darker gaps in the field began to light up and revealed itself as displaced outlines of its actual figure amidst the barrage of rain, the commotion of life once again continued as an orchestra returning from intermission to replay an eternal sonata, and we are the audience entranced by its performance.
As we collectively approach closer to the wreckage it was as if the air was physically thicker and the added friction made it more difficult to pass. Our hearts raced, our breathing controlled by our emotions, and an instinctive spotlight guided our eyes across the traces of debris that led to the eventual end of the beastâ€™s journey. From the remains and trail of guts that it had left behind one could assemble a recreation that it was sickened with madness and in its fervor, lost control, rolled over numerous times with irreversible momentum, shattering all of its eyes, rupturing its organs, and crushing everything inside as it impacted the wall of the freeway and sustained a collision course into the pillars that held up an overpass, then slid into a nearby ditch. What was most disturbing was a childâ€™s car seat that laid upside-down soaking the rain water from the pavement. I couldnâ€™t make out if a child was still strapped in but judging from the neglect of the emergency response crew I trust that if such a child existed it would have been accounted for long ago and their focus had already shifted to extracting the rest of the passengers from ravaged creature.
The beast laid still, without a breath, without a sound: hollow, bare-boned, and vulnerable to the elements. The fragmented shards of glass scattered the scene as though heaven was crying and its tears had crystallized upon impact with the earth. My thoughts frantically darted with curiosityâ€¦â€”â€what heinousness was done to provoke it so?â€ â€”â€how did these poor souls entangle themselves in the brambles of this tragedy?â€ â€”â€if their lives were lost would anyone know?â€ â€”â€would they care?â€ â€”â€if they disappeared into the depths of the earth would anyone notice and take pity?â€
They cried quietly, stared with fascination, shook their heads, empathetically reached out, and that was all they can do. The rain poured from a bottomless carafe and refused to give despite human tragedy.
The voices of the rescue crew resoundedâ€¦
â€œHis body is submersedâ€¦â€
â€œHeâ€™s pinnedâ€¦we canâ€™t risk further damageâ€¦â€
â€œâ€¦we need to do it now!â€
The morning landscape suddenly froze, its colors washed away by the downpour, and its texture eroded revealing an underlying scene.
Suddenly, I was in the hallway of my office, surrounded by partitioned rooms with large windows projecting its inhabitants from a distance. It reminded me of reptilian museums that encased helplessly dependent creatures in glass cages, stripping them of dignity, and exposing their concealed rage for the world to judge. They didnâ€™t seem to know I was there, observing them. A quick stir of commotion spurred in one of the rooms and caused a small gathering to take place. Their faces were distraught with worry and the message delivered acted as an enervating wave that swept the area, collapsing the ceiling of excitement down onto the bystanders and pinning them against the floor. Moments later the crowd dispersed and each participant reluctantly returned to their posts.
The fluorescent lights one by one flickered and extinguished leaving a gradation of darkness in its path.
The rain ceased. A deadly silence took the place of the calming white noise and the echoing of my thoughts rippled as an unwelcome disturbance.
A light emerged from the abysmal darkness and reflected a familiar reality. I was in my room, unusual as it was tidy yet losing to the invasion of dust. The bed was made, pillows neatly arranged, clothes hung orderly and unused. The posters on the wall still defying gravity, the trophies that lined the dresser standing proud and basking in the fleeting moment of its glory. It was quite evident that life had left this room behind some time ago. I approached the window, which now was frosted with age and barely translucent, then with all the strength I could muster, broke through the binds of deterioration and lifted the dull glassy frame to reveal another reality behind it.
A soothing voice of a mature woman sought its way into my consciousnessâ€¦
â€œSir, can you hear me?â€ â€”â€Youâ€™re going to be okayâ€¦just try to relaxâ€¦â€
â€œDo you know where you are?â€
â€œYou were involved in an accidentâ€¦but youâ€™ll be okay now.â€
â€œMy name is Anne. If you need anything at all, just push this button to call me. Iâ€™ll be right outside your room.â€
Her shadow pierced through the sterile air as she exited the room. Though unable to move my head, I could still see her from the corner of my eyes through a large glass window paneâ€“a teasing transparency that stood between me and another human being, separating our distinct realities, yet, mutually revealing both worlds that are, at once, within reach and completely isolated.
My voice struggled with a stubborn laziness and could not carry its own weight. In the sterility of silence, a simple realization emerged from the atmosphere of confusion. It is not distance that separates us, but a glass prison–one that most of us have unknowingly entombed ourselves within long before our physical death. We live in it, we breathe inside it, and we only see with our eyes the world beyond, that is, if we even bother to look.
What is the point? Why struggle to survive when submission to death seems more rational given the suffering? Wherein is the reward for a life of virtue and how does it compare to a life of excess? At the root of all suffering is there a profundity of ascension, enlightenment? What, then, is the meaning of life? Albert Camus inquires about the very essence of our existence, that is, our raison’d’etre, and asserts that the most “urgent of questions” and all other philosophical quandaries become ancillary.
The dilemma is that most of us are caught in making habitual “gestures” required of existence and in the process we are not conscious of the futility of life. But it is the case that the “stage sets the collapse” as the automatonic ardor grows weary in time, and ultimately, this leads to the tragedy of awakening. Camus draws on the tale of Sisyphus, who was sentenced with the eternal punishment of fruitless labor for his disobedience when the underworld had called for his return, but he defiantly clung to the warmth of life. The torture lies in the utter hopelessness of the task and the tragedy is only exposed in those rare moments when Sisyphus returns from the summit to reclaim the rock. In this moment, Camus states that by the same token of lucidity meant to translate his torture, at the same time it “crowns his victory.” That is, his realization of the task’s meaninglessness empowers him with a fate divorced from the one assigned to him by the gods. The reign of the deities at once dispelled, and Sisyphus is free even while he remains in the chains of bondage. Camus concludes, then, that Sisyphus must be [imagined happy]. He poses the central question, “is life absurd?â€ and if so, does suicide then become the most significant philosophical question for man to consider?
While his mode of logical reasoning is sound, it still is defeated by a major flaw that fails to encompass all matters of circumstance. Instead, he solely focuses on the aspect of futility and disregards the possibility for some kind of substance to emerge from man’s struggles. Camus brings to light the “daily agitation” to evince the uselessness of enduring the “mechanical life.” But in this state, he affirms is the moment of truth leading to the awakening of the consciousness of absurdity, in which we face a question that may threaten our very will to live. While it is true that daily life, especially in the modern society seems all too pointless when viewed from a grandiose perspective; it remains, however, to the satisfaction of the individual to endure such monotony and still find in it the motivation to proceed.
Perhaps the tragedy lies in the carrot that dangles in our faces and forces us to obediently chase it without question and only with pure instinct; thus, in doing so, we lose control of our destinies and ultimately become bound to a fate determined by a mastermind of sorts, from whom the carrot is projected and given its illusive nature. It seems more rational to admit that while we do sometimes succumb to the allure of life, it still remains within our own faculties to steer ourselves away from temptation and lead a sovereign life free from absolute rulership.
For this same reason, revolutions naturally take place against oppressive bodies of government because it violates the quintessential nature to be free, in thought as well as in body. If either becomes constrained, the discomfort inevitably leads to a rebellion when a certain threshold is crossed. Our struggles sometimes can be minute, trivial, and dismissed but it is the amalgamation of these that bring out of the darkness, the light of meaning.
A world of absurdity is meaningless and irrational, thereby void of intent since this implies purpose and this presupposes a deterministic warrant of justification. Camus wants to expose a life that can be lived without appeal, and asserts that the belief in the absurd qualifies the quantity of experiences to be of greater value than that of its quality. Thus, the absurd-conscious lives life to the maximum simply because he is aware of his life, his revolt, and his freedom.
Further, Camus states “where lucidity dominates, the scale of values is useless.” One can agree to the point as Camus suggests, if two men were to live the same span of life, the net quantity of living is constituted by their awareness of the finer moments within that span. This cannot be derailed; however, lucidity is not necessarily a mutually exclusive faculty since one can be aware of life’s futility yet still tether himself to a body of values as a basis for life.
This is not exactly an appeal to life, but rather a set of tools at his disposal to foil the absurd obstacles that life is to bring him. If it were not purely for survival, then in this secondary sense, man can find meaning even in the challenge itself, without the appeal of a higher destiny, as a child can endeavor to build sand castles near crashing waves without ever minding the futility of the task. They are rather engrossed only in the challenge at hand and the rest are fanciful ruminations of a distant philosopher.
This then brings into focus the question of fate. Is it a matter of men or a matter of gods? With Sisyphus, Camus is inclined to assign dominion of fate initially to the gods but when Sisyphus is awakened he expels the gods from their thrones and becomes a slave without a master, and all matters of the gods now become that of men by virtue of inheritance. It is, thus to Camus, that Sisyphus while still condemned to the same fate, is imagined to be happy because he is conscious of his tragic fate.
It seems strange that Camus arrives at such a conclusion given that, if one is conscious of his own tragedy, then he would be more disposed himself of such a fate; rather than attempt in ignorance to perpetuate his existence. Camus wants to empower Sisyphus, as with all men, dominion over his own destiny, and as such they could overtake the fate of which the gods have originally assigned. This is to say that an imagined power, something purely incorporeal in nature, could manifest and override an existing reality that is much more visceral and commanding.
This ersatz presumption of power simply is a coping mechanism for the ineptitude of man to conquer his fate, whether it is death or the eternal punishment of the gods. Realizing that one is imprisoned does no more to release one from it than a prisoner who schemes of his escape than falls into a slumber wherein he executes his fanciful machinations and succeeds; yet, detrimentally, it further seals oneâ€™s fate in an imaginary world where one is free, when in fact he is not. Moreover, it does not translate to him overpowering his captors because no matter how free he claims himself to be from a mental reference, the solidity of the prison remains unaffected and very much effective.
Why must Sisyphus be imagined happy? It is because the opposite is too hopelessly tragic to fathom and doing so may thrust one into the pandemic pit of eternal despair. Absurdity is not in the mechanisms of life itself but in the denial that such futile sufferance exists, and that one must be subjected to it.
Imagine that the integrity of who we are is sustained by the four walls of a tin box; we are these metallic boxes. How much we are changed depends on the amount of impact impressed by the hammering forces of the external world and how well our barriers are constructed. The substance with which we use to build our framework then determines how affected, vulnerable, and resilient we are in the face of external influences. We can allow the world to arbitrarily shape and mold us, or we can completely barricade ourselves behind an impenetrable fortress. Alternatively, we can build ourselves with a substance permeable enough to allow a degree of integration with the external world and flexible enough to change form without losing memory of its original shape.